The approach this question alludes to is known as cycle syncing, and it can help you tailor your training to the phases of your menstrual cycle. Each phase has unique hormonal fluctuations that can influence energy levels, perceived strength, and more.
You can think of it as a personalized periodization program, in which you match exercise modality, frequency, and intensity to best meet you where you are at a given moment. The approach could aid you in optimizing performance and improving your long-term gains.
For help explaining what cycle syncing is, how it works, and who might benefit from trying it, I reached out to Steph Gaudreau, a sports nutritionist, lifting coach, and author of the training and nutrition guide The Core 4. Cycle syncing is a topic of professional and personal interest for Gaudreau, who has discussed the subject on her weekly podcast, Fuel Your Strength, and trains athletes who are interested in this approach.
It is worth noting that while cycle syncing is gaining popularity and exposure in fitness circles and on social media, there is a lack of supporting scientific research. That’s not because it’s been disproven; rather, it simply hasn’t been sufficiently studied. (There is a staggering dearth of fitness research relating specifically to women and other menstruating folks, but that’s a topic for another article.)
If cycle syncing interests you, there’s no harm in trying it and deciding for yourself whether it works. As Gaudreau explains, you might learn something about yourself in the process.
Menstrual Cycle 101
To understand cycle syncing, let’s first review the menstrual cycle. There are four phases, each marked by hormonal shifts.
Menstruation: When the uterus sheds its lining, this marks day one of the cycle — and also the start of the follicular phase. You may notice mood changes, cramps, and sleep issues that can affect how you feel during training. If your energy and stamina are low, feel free to stick with gentle movements and lighter weights.
After the first couple of days, these symptoms generally pass and estrogen begins to rise, which might give you a renewed sense of strength and energy. “This can be a good time to start upping cardio intensity and moving into heavier resistance training,” says Gaudreau.
Follicular phase: This refers to the first half of the cycle, which begins on the first day of menstruation. The body is preparing to release an egg from one of your ovaries due to the influence of follicle-stimulating hormone, or FSH. Because estrogen peaks around ovulation, and progesterone is lower in this phase than it is in the luteal phase (more on that later), the follicular phase is often called the low-hormone phase.
Following menstruation, which early on might cause low stamina, “you may notice you feel stronger and more coordinated, so it may be a great time to sneak in an extra lifting session, lift heavier, work on more technical lifts like snatches or clean-and-jerks, or emphasize higher-intensity cardio,” Gaudreau says.
Ovulation: Toward the middle of the cycle, estrogen rises and luteinizing hormone causes the ovary to release an egg.
“Many people notice strength training, HIIT [high-intensity interval training], and exercises that require more balance or coordination still feel good during this time due to the spike in estrogen and testosterone,” Gaudreau notes. “However, other people may feel a bit off during ovulation, so pay attention to your body’s signals.”
Luteal phase: This is the second half of the cycle, occurring after ovulation. If there was no fertilization, the egg disintegrates. Progesterone rises, and estrogen — despite dipping briefly after ovulation — levels back up. This stage is often called the high-hormone phase, and the last five to seven days of the luteal phase are often associated with PMS.
Common changes during this latter part of the luteal phase include increased body temp (up to 1 degree F), reduced balance and coordination, diminished sleep quality, increased fatigue, mood changes, bloating, cravings, headaches, and lack of motivation. Progesterone declines at the end of this phase, before menstruation begins again.
“These [changes] can absolutely affect how you feel during your workouts, so you may want to reduce the intensity and/or volume of your cardio or lifting,” says Gaudreau. “This might be a time to shift to more moderate, steady-state cardio or moderate loads in your strength training. This could also mean focusing on more mobility work or lighter technique work in your lifting, active recovery, or taking an extra rest day or two.”
She emphasizes that the option to choose gentle movement in the luteal phase does not mean that doing hard things is harmful or that you are “somehow too fragile” to lift heavy or do high-intensity work if you are inspired to do so.
“Menstruating people should be empowered to modify their workouts based on how they’re feeling whenever they choose,” she explains. “[But] there is no compelling evidence that you need to stop training completely — or even stop lifting — during the luteal phase.”
The Benefits of Cycle Syncing
A major plus of this approach is that people often finally make the connection between menstrual-cycle phases and how they feel during exercise, Gaudreau says. “They may be aware that their cycle affects how they feel outside the gym, but when it comes to training, they assume that they should just be able to power through no matter what. Learning that the fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone may influence their training is often eye-opening. There’s a newfound sense of validation (It’s not just all in my head) or empowerment (I have permission to adjust my workouts based on how I feel). That kind of agency and self-efficacy can be very impactful.”
Cycle syncing can also add variety to your training, Gaudreau notes. “Training according to your cycle may help you include elements of training that you might otherwise avoid, such as heavier lifting days, more mobility work, technique sessions, etc.”
Finally, the awareness-building that results from cycle syncing means that “I often see people more willing to give themselves the recovery they need when they’re training according to their cycle,” she says. “Instead of pushing through and going hard no matter what, they’re often more open to the idea that going to failure every day isn’t necessary for getting results — and is often counterproductive.”
Ready to Give It a Try?
The first step is to understand your unique menstrual cycle.
People taking hormonal birth control or oral contraceptives, people in perimenopause, and folks experiencing some other disruption to their “normal” cycle may find it difficult or impossible to follow this approach. (Not to worry if you don’t make it past this step! There are other ways to personalize your training according to your body’s signals. Learn more about intuitive training at “How to Use Intuitive Training“.)
The next step is to begin tracking your cycle; there are many apps available to help. Start noticing how you feel in each phase and how your energy, perceived strength, sleep quality, mood, and motivation change over the course of the cycle.
Once you’ve compiled this information, you can begin prioritizing different modalities and intensities in your exercise routine. The most important elements in this method are assessing and adapting — notice how you feel, assess it honestly, and be willing to adapt to your present reality, without guilt or shame.
Gaudreau has found that mindset is a critical piece of the puzzle with cycle syncing — which is not meant to be prescriptive or rigid. Because it’s common for menstrual cycles to vary from month to month and over the years, cycle syncing calls for flexibility.
People who prefer not to deviate from a training plan, who aren’t accustomed to listening to their body’s signals or intuition, or who tend to form unhealthy attachments to tracking might have difficulty with this approach. “Paying attention to your body’s signals is very powerful, but it’s not something everyone is used to doing,” says Gaudreau.
Give yourself time to adjust and embrace the getting-to-know-yourself aspect of this training approach. Remember that there’s no way to do it wrong — it’s just one more tool to help you get the most out of your workouts.
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